Director: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace
Running Time: 121mins.
Sony Pictures Classics
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
It sets a high standard to go ahead and give a politically charged film a title like Truth but that’s exactly what James Vanderbilt, making his directorial debut, has done. I expect the film will be targeted by leftover George W Bush supporters as its protagonist says, “for asking the question” once again of GW’s National Guard service time but the fact is he still won out in the 2004 election despite this scandal and that result is not the concern of this film. Instead Vanderbilt delves into the high stakes of questioning extremely powerful people and more than once the dangers of confirmation bias by even the most experienced of journalists. Whatever your politics, this is an often compelling film that is driven by another strong performance from Cate Blanchett.
Based on her own memoir, Truth and Duty, the film tells the story of Mary Mapes (Blanchett) an ex-producer for on CBS’s “60 Minutes” whose career, along with famous newsman Dan Rather (Redford), was ended when they dug into the dodgy military record of President George W. Bush and whether or not strings were pulled to not only keep him out of the Vietnam war, but to also cover for his being AWOL from even his National Guard duties. On the eve of the 2004 presidential election, the story was make or break material whose impact relied on the timeliness at which it could be delivered to the public.
Working from her own memoir, it’s hard for the film to be anything but sympathetic to Mapes and Rather’s side. I don’t think Rather can feel too badly about this chapter of his life being played out large again when Robert Redford is portraying him. That said, Vanderbilt still manages time and again to highlight the flaws in Mapes relentless fight to get this story out. In order to make her deadline to air, she naysays concerns raised by some of the experts her own team has assembled which eventually comes right back around the bite her later. Once the story blows up and is challenged by Bush’s right-wing supporters in the media, the film picks up. More and more tiny technicalities rip apart Mapes’s reporting if not the actual truth about Bush’s service. Vanderbilt even wrings stress out of the nuances of Microsoft Word fonts, quite a feat outside of resumé creation.
Along the way, Cate Blanchett is electric to watch. In the beginning she is secure and untouchable in light of her success in breaking the news of atrocities at Abu Gharib and her close partnership with the iconic Rather. In Blanchett’s Mapes you can see why a network would bow to her command despite some doubts. It’s a performance that only gets more layered as Mapes weathers her attacks. At first keeping her defenses up and then slowly you see her gears start to shift from denials to justification, despair, and eventually to remounting up her full defenses against a harsh inquisition lead by a surprisingly intimidating Dermot Mulroney. Blanchett is capably supported by the likes of Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss (I could have done without Topher Grace shouting a speech in the film’s later acts), but her charisma is only truly matched in the relatively small role Redford plays. Redford avoids impersonation of Dan Rather, but exudes the stoicism of the long-serving anchorman well and serves as a needed calm counterpoint in Mapes’s political storm.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Truth is to see an internet-powered scandal from over a decade ago and how even in just this short span of time, news has evolved (or devolved? Depends who you ask). Twitter, among other outlets, wasn’t around yet and by that standard, I began to wonder if this story would have died in the ever-shuffling 24 hour news cycle or if it would have simply come to the same end results in days rather than months. And whether Rather could have better ‘survived’ an even more sped up timeline. In a film all about raising questions, I was satisfied to come away with still more.
Truth is on limited release from October 16th and will expand to more theaters later this month.